Prolific actor Eli Wallach, who appeared in over 100 movies, perhaps most notably ones like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), has passed away at the age of 98. Wallach never lost his love for acting, even playing a financial hand in the Oliver Stone sequel to Wall Street, called Money Never Sleeps (2010).
On Wednesday, Peter Wallach, the son of Eli, confirmed that his father had passed away on Tuesday in New York City of natural causes.
According to Peter Wallach, as reported by the Detroit Free Press and other sources, a great way to remember and honor his father would be to “to put on one of his movies,” and watch it.
Eli Wallach is perhaps best known for playing the role of Tuco, or The Ugly, the bandito in the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly who teams up with Clint Eastwood’s character, “Blondie.”
Eastwood is The Good, though his character has motives that are as questionable and self-serving as the motives of Tuco and Lee Van Cleef’s character, “Angel Eyes,” (The Bad). The three sometimes work together, but each wants to out shoot and outwit the others and be the first to find gold that is reputed to be buried in a grave in a Civil War cemetery.
Tuco, played by Eli Wallach, and Blondie take turns shooting a hangman’s rope when one of them gets caught and is hung by the neck. Blondie takes a little too long, sometimes, before he shoots the rope and comes riding up on a horse to rescue Tuco. Tuco’s full name is Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez, but Blondie refers to him as “The Rat.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the third movie of a trilogy of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns, all of which star Clint Eastwood, who sometimes was called “Joe,” or was left unnamed. The other two Eastwood movies were Fistful of Dollars and its sequel, For a Few Dollars More.
One of Eli Wallach’s most memorable lines in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” He speaks the words to another gunslinger.
Eli Wallach was so well remembered for his role as the sometimes bumbling but always sinister Tuco that everywhere he went, people would recognize him for playing Tuco, and would, according to Wallach, “start whistling the theme song.” In 2005, he came out with the memoir The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage.
Another one of Wallach’s definitive roles was in the Western The Magnificent Seven, when he played the flamboyant, sinister bandit chief Calvera.
Wallach, born in Brooklyn on Dec. 7, 1915, was the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who owned a candy store. He began acting in high school plays. Wallach also served during WWII, in the Army medical corps, as an Army hospital administrator, and he attained the rank of captain. He, Karl Malden, wife Anne Jackson, and Marlon Brando were all charter members of the Actors Studio.
Besides The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, he has starred in numerous other movies and Broadway plays over his long career. He began it acting in plays in the 1940s. He and his wife acted together in several plays. He was a Method actor, wanting to immerse himself in whatever role he was playing, and he draw on his personal memories and emotions. In 1951, Eli Wallach won a Tony Award for being a supporting actor in the Tennessee Williams play, The Rose Tattoo.
Other of the earlier movies that Eli Wallach starred in that made him famous include the Elia Kazan-directed movie, Baby Doll, released in 1956, considered to be racy for the time and condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency; The Misfits (1961), which also starred Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe; the 1964 movie, Lord Jim, also starring Peter O’Toole; and The Godfather III, from 1990. In it, Wallach played a mobster who is murdered by someone having poisoned his cannoli.
Along with Oliver Stone’s Money Never Sleeps, some of Wallach’s later movies were the Clint Eastwood-directed movie, Mystic River (2003), and The Holiday (2006).
Eli Wallach was never awarded an elusive Oscar, though in 201, the veteran actor was presented with an honorary Academy Award by his long-time friend, Clint Eastwood. Wallach played many different roles in his career, showing the immense range of his acting abilities. Most of the men Eli Wallach played were criminals and bad guys, mobsters — not at all like the person who Wallach was in real life, when he preferred to “collect antique clocks” and “watch every tennis match.”
Eli Wallach was also a television star, though fans of Westerns probably remember him best from his portrayal of Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and as the bandit chief Calvera in The Magnificent Seven. However, the most fan mail he ever received was when he played the villain, Mr. Freeze, in the campy Batman TV series of the 1960s. Wallach and his wife had three children, one son, Peter, and two daughters, Katherine and Roberta. Though movie-goers around the world remember him for his string of memorable films, he was also very much a loving family man who liked to do things such as “take pictures of faces in the bark of trees.”
Written by: Douglas Cobb